<< Back to News
MusculoskeletalJun 10, 2024

'Digital physio could substantially improve the care and journey for some people with back pain'

Patients with back pain and other conditions in a variety of areas in the UK have been receiving video appointments with an AI physiotherapist via a smartphone app in a pioneering trial.

Alison MacDonald, an executive nurse director at NHS Lothian – one of four trusts and boards in Scotland and England that took part in the trial last year – welcomed the development.

The Flok Health platform provides same-day access to automated, responsive video appointments with an AI physiotherapist.

In a news item released by Flock Health today (10 June), Ms MacDonald said: ‘Technological developments such as Flok have the potential to substantially improve the care and journey for some people with back pain by complementing the range of healthcare services available.'

She added: ‘We're looking forward to continuing working with Flok to further understand and explore the potential for how we could integrate such technology with our current therapy provision.’

 

Photo Credit: Flok Health
Most patients were initially prescribed six treatment appointments with Flok’s AI physio

Power Diary
Power Diary

AI physio initiative to be further 'rolled out' in 2024

Following trails in NHS Lothian, NHS Borders, Cambridge University Hospitals and Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, what is said to be ‘the UK’s first AI-powered physiotherapy clinic’ is to be rolled out in other NHS settings later this year. Flock Health said the app means ‘thousands of patients in pain’ will receive ‘faster, personalised treatment’.

It’s getting harder and harder for patients to access the physiotherapy they need. With NHS services stretched and wait times growing, thousands are waiting months for an initial appointment, leaving them in pain and often unable to continue their daily routines, such as going to work [Finn Stevenson]

Finn Stevenson, Flok Health’s co-founder and chief executive, said that 11 million people in the UK have back pain and that one person in visits their GP with  musculoskeletal (MSK) problems every year.

‘It’s getting harder and harder for patients to access the physiotherapy they need. With NHS services stretched and wait times growing, thousands are waiting months for an initial appointment, leaving them in pain and often unable to continue their daily routines, such as going to work.

Dr Stevenson, a former professional rower, noted: ‘Creating faster, more convenient access to physiotherapy services is vital to tackling this crisis. Harnessing new technologies, like AI, can help us unlock individualised treatment for thousands of patients, while reducing pressure on NHS services and freeing up capacity for treating those in need of in-person care.'

Patients seeking support for conditions that require physiotherapy, such as back pain, can be referred to Flok through a community or primary care healthcare setting, such as their GP. They can also self-refer directly into the service, taking pressure off GP and other primary care appointments.

Dr Stevenson added: ‘We’re excited to be working closely with the NHS to develop this new technology and create a new care model for on-demand personalised treatment at population scale.'

Harnessing new technologies, like AI, can help us unlock individualised treatment for thousands of patients, while reducing pressure on NHS services and freeing up capacity for treating those in need of in-person care [Finn Stevenson]

NHS pilot studies show 'promising results' 

As part of a series of three-month pilot studies that were conducted from May to December 2023, more than 1,000 NHS staff with back pain issues referred themselves to Flok’s AI physiotherapy clinic. An initial video assessment with an AI physiotherapist was performed to evaluate their symptoms and ensure that Flok could safely provide the right treatment for their condition. 

Once approved for treatment, patients had weekly AI video appointments with their ‘digital physio,’ which they could access at home at a convenient time. During these sessions, the AI physiotherapist could prescribe exercises and pain management techniques, monitor the patient’s symptoms and adjust treatments in real-time.

Most patients were initially prescribed six treatment appointments with Flok’s AI physio. After these weekly appointments had been completed, patients were given unlimited access to personalised sessions for several months, during which they could focus on preventive care and reducing the risk of recurrent issues, in line with their needs. 

AI physiotherapy deemed 'better' or 'the same as' human physiotherapy

In the latest service evaluation, all (100 per cent) of surveyed pilot patients rated their experience with Flok as being at least equivalent to seeing a human physiotherapist, while more than half (57 per cent) said the AI physio experience was better than the traditional alternative. 

The digital service was also effective, with more than four in five participants (86 per cent) reporting that their symptoms had improved during treatment with the Flok platform. 

AI physiotherapy 'reduces waiting lists' 

Almost all (97 per cent) of the NHS Lothian patients who self-referred to Flok received an automated triage outcome. Most (92 per cent) were immediately approved for AI physio and were given access to appointments on the same day. A small number of patients (5 per cent) were automatically referred to another NHS service, such as NHS 111 or their GP.

The remaining 3 per cent of patients were given an additional assessment through a telehealth appointment with a member of Flok’s clinical team. All but one of these individuals were then cleared to receive treatment with the AI physio, with the remaining patient successfully referred to an alternative service for urgent care.

Flok followed up with patients that were directed to another service 'out of courtesy and to validate the safety of the clinic’s automated triage system'. As far as it is aware, no red flags were missed during any of the trials, Flok said.

Data gathered from the trial at Cambridge University Hospitals indicated that the AI clinic helped to cut waiting times for physiotherapy, with waiting lists for in-person MSK appointments increasing by more than 50 per cent once the pilot ended and the AI clinic was no longer in use.

Following the successful trial period, Flok’s AI physiotherapy clinic is set to be rolled out by early adopting NHS providers across the UK later this year. 

According to Flok, new technology has the potential to help to alleviate the backlog of people awating treatment for MSK problems, 'guaranteeing same-day access to gold-standard care'. 

More than 30 million working days are lost to MSK conditions every year in the UK and they account for up to 3 per cent of GP consultations in England.

 

Author: Ian A McMillan
Power Diary
Power Diary
<< Back to News
By using our site, you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Cookie Policy and Privacy Policy.